The San Diego Presidio was the first European settlement on the Pacific Coast of present-day America, founded as a military post by Gaspar de Portola in 1769. Situated on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, the location provided a fine defensive position but the town that grew up around the bluff was four miles away from one of the finest natural harbors on the coast. During the California Gold Rush of the late 1840s thousands of potential settlers stopped in San Diego but few stayed.
In 1850, months before California would be admitted to the Union, William Heath Davis was one of the first to move out of the developed part of town and attempt to take advantage of that harbor. Despite spending an estimated $60,000 on the project his wharf was crudely built and in 1853 the steamer Los Angeles barreled into it and the damage was never repaired. Davis was long gone by 1862 when the United States Army dismantled his wharf and used the timber for firewood.
There would not be another settlement effort until 1867 when Alonzo Horton gobbled up 900 acres of what would one day be downtown San Diego for $265. Horton energetically laid out streets, sold lots and encouraged development. Within twenty years “New Town” was THE town. Horton always had an eye on the bottom line so he created small town blocks that gave him more corners to sell
Today many of the Victorian buildings from these early boom years of the 1880s and 1890s remain in downtown’s Gaslamp Quarter. There are 94 designated historic buildings in the Gaslamp Quarter and our walking tour will spend a good amount of time among the fanciful two- and three- and four-story buildings but we will also explore the towers around the fringes and thanks to Alonzo Horton’s short blocks it will seem like we are covering quite a bit of ground...
southwest corner of Broadway and 4th Avenue
When Alonzo Erastus Horton cleared land for his Horton House in 1870 he gave this space to the nascent town for gatherings and celebrations. The Plaza remained little more than a dusty patch of ground for many years, picking up a small rail fence, a fountain, a bandstand and some plantings along the way. In 1895 Horton officially deeded the property to the town in exchange for $100 a month payable to $10,000 and palm trees were planted around the perimeter. The first formal design plan for the Plaza came in 1909 from esteemed architect Irving Gill, which included the centerpiece electric fountain constructed with $10,000 of donated funds from Mayor Louis J. Wilde. Gill’s design was the winner over twelve competing entries and the fountain was dedicated on October 15, 1910. Irving John Gill was born on an upstate New York farm in 1870 and never saw the inside of an acclaimed architecture school. Instead he began apprenticing and picked up work in increasingly more famous shops until he was at the prestigious Chicago firm of Adler and Sullivan where he worked alongside Frank Lloyd Wright for a time. By 1893 Gill had made his way to San Diego where he became the town’s most versatile and acclaimed architect.
WALK TO THE NORTH SIDE OF THE PLAZA AT BROADWAY. IN FRONT OF YOU IS...
U.S. Grant Hotel
326 Broadway Street at northwest corner of 4th Avenue
Alonzo Horton, like thousands of others, came west to California chasing gold in 1849. He soon became more intrigued by reports of golden sunshine in San Diego than golden flakes in mountain streams. At the time of his arrival Old Town was settled about four miles from the natural harbor and Horton was able to buy up much of the land in between for nickels an acre. He then platted his new property, laying out streets on short blocks so he had more corner lots to sell. Within twenty years “New Town” had supplanted “Old Town” as the heart of San Diego. “New Town” needed a first class hotel so Horton built one here, a 100-room spectacle that stamp San Diego as a town to be reckoned with. Horton House would eventually be purchased by Fannie Chaffee Grant, the wife of Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. When the Grants moved to San Diego in 1906 they tore down the grand old hotel and hatched plans for an ever more luxurious guest house four times the size. Innovative architect Harrison Albright had recently moved his practice to Southern California and he was hired to design the new 11-story Beaux Arts hotel. The San Francisco earthquake in 1906, cost overruns, and Mrs. Grant’s death plagued the building’s progress and San Diego voters had to help finance half the $1.5 million final cost. It was not until 1910 that the 437-room hotel named for the Union general and 18th United States President opened. There have been good times and bad over the last 100 years but highlights have included the welcoming of 13 U.S. Presidents and the staging of the inaugural San Diego Comic-Con International in 1970.
TURN RIGHT ON BROADWAY AND HEAD EAST, ACROSS 4TH AVENUE.
Owl Drug Company Building
402-416 Broadway at northeast corner of 4th Avenue
This property was also owned by Ulysses S. Grant, Jr. and he raised a Neoclassical four-story building on the site, designed by local architects the Quayle Brothers and Cressey, to resemble his hotel across the street. The building was sometimes referred to as the “Baby Grant” although its appearance was modernized in the 1940s. The most prominent tenant here was the Owl Drug Company, an institution for California shoppers since its beginnings in San Francisco in 1892. This was their first San Diego store. It operated on the ground floor while the upper stories were swallowed by its next door neighbor...
1014 Fifth Avenue at northwest corner of Broadway
Ralf M. Walker began his retailing empire in Los Angeles before setting out to conquer all of Southern California. He went to Long Beach first and then came here to San Diego in 1935, refitting the Spanish Colonial building John Terrel Vawter had constructed for Charles Holzwasser’s department store in 1919. Holzwasser had built on this corner because it “was then and still is the best corner in the city, the most expensive, but worth it.” An Art Deco update was applied to the lower two floors. Walker died shortly before the store launched and George A. Scott, a former stock boy who Walker sent to the New York University of Retailing, handled the opening. The store grew to eight stories and San Diego shoppers could take their first rides on escalators here. Walker’s widow, Eliza, became president of the business and after she died in 1951 the name was changed to Walker-Scott. Scott lived until 1993 and witnessed the closing of the store in 1989. He had received numerous awards in his lifetime for civic involvement including being named “Mr. San Diego” by the Grant Club and “Man of the Century” by the Central City Association. Walker, however, is largely forgotten, remembered mostly for having rented a guest house to Harry Houdini which the famous magician is said to haunt.
964 Fifth Avenue at southwest corner of Broadway
In 1904 Ralph Granger headed an investment group that purchased controlling interest in the Merchants’ National Bank of San Diego and then moved the bank into this five-story Romanesque-flavored headquarters that year. The bank had formed in 1893 just prior to a nationwide financial crisis and since it was too new to have much exposed risk Merchants’ was one of only two banks in town to emerge from the Panic.
531 Broadway at southwest corner of 6th Avenue
Hungarian-born Samuel Fox crossed the Atlantic Ocean in steerage, arriving in New York City in 1880 when he was 18 years of age. He found work and went to night school for four years to learn English and then set out for the West. He worked in a San Francisco clothing house for a year and then came to San Diego where he began buying and selling real estate. He married into the Kuhn Family that founded the Lion Clothing Store and when his brother-in-law died in 1899, Samuel Fox took over the business. Offering solely men’s furnishings, Lion Clothing became the foundation of the Fox empire that culminated with the completion of this building in 1929. William Templeton Johnson, from whose imagination sprung many of San Diego’s notable buildings, provided a Spanish Renaissance design for the four-story building that was hailed as one of the finest structures on the Pacific Coast. The price tag was $500,000 and the grand opening drew an estimated 10,000 curious shoppers. Lion Clothing, the sole tenant, would remain here until 1984.
San Diego Trust & Savings Bank
530 Broadway at northwest corner of 6th Avenue
The San Diego Savings Bank took its first deposits in 1889 under the watchful eye of its founder, Joseph W. Sefton. Sefton was a Midwestern businessman who had never run a bank before and he wanted his bank to appeal to folks who weren’t used to trusting their money to others. You could open a savings account at San Diego Savings with a dollar, a dime if you were a child. By the 1920s Sefyon’s son was at the helm and he was looking for a suitable banking temple for the renamed San Diego Trust & Savings Bank. He hired one of the town’s top architects, William Templeton Johnson, to design his tower. Johnson created a 14-story Italian Renaissance confection topped by the town’s first aviation beacon, with a light visible for 25 miles. With his pick of the finest construction materials Johnson outfitted the exterior with a base of Scotch Rose granite supporting two stories of Berea sandstone from Ohio. Inside Johnson crafted 35 columns for the 32-foot high banking hall, using 19 different types of marble collected from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea.
Colonel Fletcher Building
600-624 Broadway at northeast corner of 6th Avenue
This Italian Renaissance commercial building was constructed in 1908 and received a $13 million makeover for its 100th birthday. The developer was Ed Fletcher who was born in Massachusetts in1872 but was on the streets of San Diego peddling fresh produce when he was 16. He soon had his own commission business which led to his involvement in real estate. He laid out tony subdivisions like Del Mar and threw himself into water development and road building. Fletcher was obsessed with bringing auto transportation to San Diego and participated in a “roadless” race between Phoenix and Southern California in 1912 to determine the best route to lay out a road. He then raised the money to pay for 13,000 wooden planks to take the road across the Algodones Dunes and thus complete a commercial route between San Diego and Yuma. Fletcher also garnered publicity for San Diego be driving to Washington D.C. in 1915 over 26 days; by 1926 he was able to motor across the country to Savannah, Georgia in just three days. In 1907 Ed Fletcher was appointed a Lieutenant Colonel in the California National Guard and the name stuck throughout his life - when his memoirs were published in 1952 it took 750 pages for him to tell his story.
625 Broadway at southeast corner of 6th Avenue
John D. Spreckels came by his money the old-fashioned way - his father was one of the wealthiest men on the Pacific Coast - Claus Spreckels, the Sugar King. John started out working in Hawaii sugar plantations for the family business but he would make his own name in transportation and real estate, so much so that when he died in 1926 at the age of 72 he would be eulogized as “one of America’s few great Empire Builders who invested millions to turn a struggling, bankrupt village into the beautiful and cosmopolitan city San Diego is today.” His interest in the town started in 1887 when he brought his yacht Lurline into the harbor to stock up on supplies. Spreckels thought enough of the nascent town to construct a wharf and coal bunkers at the foot of Broadway but he was just getting started. He gobbled up the Coronado Beach Company with its hotel and surrounding land and then acquired the San Diego street railway system, put the horses out to pasture and installed electric street cars. He managed his burgeoning San Diego empire from San Francisco until the earthquake in 1906 drove him to bring his family permanently to Coronado Island, which he owned. John Spreckels was the wealthiest man in San Diego and it is estimated that at one time he paid 10% of all property taxes in San Diego County. He erected this grand Italian Renaissance office building in 1926, the year of his death; you can see the sculpted badge honoring Spreckels above the Broadway entrance.
CONTINUE TO 8TH AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT AND WALK ONE BLOCK TO E STREET.
San Diego Public Library
820 E Street at northeast corner of 8th Avenue
This is the second of two buildings on this corner from late in the career of William Templeton Johnson, the leading cheerleader for the Mission Revival architectural style in San Diego. Johnson was well into his seventies when he drew the plans for this library in 1954 that replaced a fifty-year old Carnegie Library in town. It had been one of over 2,500 libraries steel magnate Andrew Carnegie financed around the world. The San Diego Public Library had its beginnings in the early 1880s as two reading rooms - one for gentlemen and one for ladies. The first books were lent cautiously in 1883, with borrowers putting up appropriate security.
San Diego Post Office
southeast corner of E Street and 8th Avenue
Post offices were being constructed all across the country during the Great Depression as make-work projects and in 1937 William Templeton Johnson tapped the then-popular Art Deco style for San Diego’s. Johnson called it “Starved Classic” as buildings were shorn of their accustomed Greek and Roman ornamentation. Johnson put his decorative efforts into a terra cotta frieze above the E Street entrances that highlighted the importance of transportation to the City.
733 8th Avenue
This building began life in 1917 as a Neoclassical lodge and social hall for Eagles Aerie #244, designed by John S. Siebert and William H. Wheeler. The architects returned in 1934 with plans for an expansion in an Egyptian-flavored Art Deco style. There wasn’t enough money to fully realize the vision which is seen today. Since the 1950s the building has done duty as office space.
Fire Station No.4
404 8th Avenue at northwest corner of J Street
Responding to an average of ten calls a day this is the oldest operating fire and rescue station in San Diego. The building dates to 1938, another Works Progress Administration project during the Great Depression.
ACROSS ISLAND AVENUE IS...
south of J Street between 7th and 10th avenues
The home of the San Diego Padres opened in 2004with 42,445 dark blue seats. The stadium itself is dressed in Indian sandstone and stucco. Petco Park features a grassy slope beyond the left field wall called the “Park at the Park” where fans can watch a major league game for less than $10; on non-game days it is open as a public park.
AT ISLAND AVENUE WALK WEST TOWARDS 7TH AVENUE (PETCO PARK WILL BE ON YOUR LEFT).
Simon Levi Lofts
715 J Street at southeast corner of 7th Avenue
More than 150 years ago, when he was twelve years old, Simon Levi left his homeland in central Europe and made his way to America, eventually working his way across the country and opening his own dry goods store in 1873 in the frontier town of Temecula at the end of the railroad line from San Diego. Levi was soon wholesaling and warehousing and building one of the great 19th century retail empires in Southern California. Five generations later the family business, Simon Levi Cellars, has evolved into one of the largest wine & spirit distributors in California and departed downtown San Diego. Levi owned most of this block and the company built this classically-inspired building in 1927. It did time during the middle of the 20th century as a Safeway but was restored with the opening of Petco Park.
CONTINUE TO 6TH AVENUE AND TURN RIGHT.
542 6th Avenue
This three-story brick building has operated as a guest house for over 100 years under such banners as the Burbank, the Prescott and the Hotel North. The hotel is on the second floor, retail shops on the ground floor, a common arrangement in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Guests enter through the central arched doorway, the sole ornamentation save for a decorative brick parapet.
530 Market Street at northwest corner of 6th Avenue
The Middle Ages in Great Britain saw the banding together of tradesmen into guilds to promote business and fellowship. The carpenters had their own guild, the bricklayers had their own guild and so on. Trades that did not have a large number of practitioners welded into hodgepodge guilds known as Odd Fellows. In 19th century America an International Order of Odd Fellows lodge building, usually exuberantly ornate, could be found in virtually every town. San Diego’s came in 1882, nine years in the making, as a joint effort of the Odd Fellows and the Masons. The laying of the cornerstone was greeted by a parade and a casket containing valuable coins, historic documents, and even a stone from Solomon’s Temple was lowered into the ground. The building was decorated with classical features such as pedimented windows, Doric pilasters and a rooftop balustrade. Legend has it that in 1891 the last reigning king of the Kingdom of Hawaii, Kalukaua, caught a cold while watching a parade from the iron balcony and never recovered, dying later in San Francisco. In fact the 54-year old ruler was in failing health before he sailed to California and came on the advice of his doctors to hopefully restore his health.
George Hill Building
545 6th Avenue at southwest corner of F Street
Horton’s Hall, a red-brick town landmark with a roller skating rink on the ground floor and a 400-seat theater above, stood here until it was crippled in a fire. George H. Hill erected this three-story brick commercial building in 1897 to replace it. There was space for five retailers on the ground floor and thirty office suites above. An early tenant was the San Diego Normal School, a training academy for teachers that would become San Diego State University in 1935. Seven faculty and 91 students staged classes here. In 1921 a New York cap manufacturer named Isaac Ratner came to San Diego and set up shop here after his doctor advised him that Southern California was the best place to find healthy fruits and vegetables year-round. Company lore maintains that the caps fell out of favor in the 1930s when they were viewed as mobster gear so the sewing machines were put to work manufacturing naval uniforms and officers’ caps – including a lieutenant’s cap with a special braid that son Abraham Ratner designed. In the 1970s the company acquired an unknown brand called “Hang Ten” and built it into an iconic casual-clothing name, vaulting Ratner Manufacturing into one of the largest clothing makers in America, churning out menswear in a 310,000-square foot plant in Chula Vista.
Maryland Hotel/Andaz Hotel
600 F Street at northeast corner of 6th Avenue
William Stering Hebbard spent 27 years designing important buildings in San Diego beginning in 1890. He was one of the first architects in town to abandon the ornate stylings of the Victorian age and he was the first architect to embrace the Spanish Mission Revival style two decades later. Here he tapped the Colonial Revival style for the Maryland Hotel in 1913, craftinga brick showcase with stone trim for the Sefton banking family. Early this century the old dowager received a $75 million dollar overhaul leaving the historic shell and installing 19 ultra modern hotel rooms inside.
822 6th Avenue at northwest corner of F Street
Frederick C. Sheldon was born into a proper New England family in 1860 and received every advantage in his youth, completing his medical studies by the age of 19. A bout with pneumonia sent him to San Francisco to build his lungs and he wound up in San Diego in 1885. Sheldon at once engaged in the development of 6th Avenue land he had purchased but he died of typhoid pneumonia two years later. Just as Dr. Sheldon was cut down too early so to was his commercial block that was built with four stories but three had to be removed when the building was weakened by the removal of upper floors in an adjoining building.
St. James Hotel
830 6th Avenue
The original St. James Hotel was built in 1885 and considered the town’s most magnificent structure, highlighted by a French Second Empire tower. This St. James dates to 1912 when it was one of the first buildings constructed with concrete and the tallest hotel in town, dwarfing its surrounding neighbors. The luxury hotel featured 150 rooms, a Turkish bath and an observation room. A night’s stay with a bath set you back $1.50 for which you received treatment that was, according to the San Diego Union, “first class in every respect, with excellent service.” The iconic sign on the roof was a later addition from the 1950s.
northeast corner of 6th Avenue and E Street
Some of San Diego’s grand Victorian buildings were too far gone to ever be restored. That is the case here for the Reed-Pauley Building that was constructed in 1886 with a preening mansard roof and showy bay windows. By the 1950s the windows and roof had been hacked off and replaced with great swaths of concrete. Instead of trying to bring that look back the developers went for a classic Colonial style more likely found in an East Coast port town 130 years ago than San Diego.
TURN LEFT ON E STREET.
Watts Building/Gaslamp Plaza
520 E Street at northeast corner of 5th Avenue
In 1913 Nathan Watts constructed what is considered San Diego’s first skyscraper, eleven stories designed in the Chicago style and fashioned from marble, brass, mosaic tile and Australian gumwood. Early tenants, most notably the San Diego Trust & Savings, could take advantage of steam heat, hot and cold running water, and two high-speed elevators. The office building went through a parade of owners until 1988 when it was reconfigured as a 60-suite boutique hotel.
BEFORE WE DESCEND INTO THE HEART OF THE GASLAMP QUARTER CONTINUE ONE BLOCK TO SEE...
868 Fourth Avenue at southwest corner of E Street
Like many of its contemporaries across America in the Roaring Twenties, when the Balboa Theatre opened in 1924 it was primarily still a vaudeville house capable of screening the occasional talking picture. In 1930 the Spanish Colonial playhouse was converted to a Spanish-language cinema. During World War II the Balboa did duty as housing for the United States Navy. After the war the screen went up once again but there were no more glory days - by 1959 the Balboa was slated for demolition to become a parking lot. The wrecking ball was artfully dodged and movies continued into the 1970s when the theater went dark for over 30 years. In 2008 the newly restored Balboa re-opened as a venue for live theater and concerts.
RETRACE YOUR STEPS TO 5TH AVENUE (REMEMBER, THEY ARE SHORT BLOCKS) AND TURN RIGHT.
San Diego Hardware
849 5th Avenue
In 1892 four local hardware men banded together to form San Diego Hardware, offering “a large and complete stock” at 658 Fifth Street. In 1922 the emporium moved two blocks north into a former F.W. Woolworth’s store that offered three entrances. A line of Winchester firearms was added beside the iron stoves and broad axes and hand tools so a shooting range was set up in the basement. San Diego Hardware, now the tenth oldest business in the City, stayed until 2006 when they left downtown for a multi-level showroom.
Louis Bank of Commerce
835-837 5th Avenue
Master architects John B. Stannard and Gustavus Clements erected the first granite building in San Diego in 1888, created in the ornate Second Empire style fronted by three-sided bay window projections. The money man was Isador Louis, a German immigrant who began his working life as a cobbler. In addition to his Bank of Commerce, Louis built the town’s first opera house and opened an oyster bar here that became a favorite watering hole of Wyatt Earp. The towers were removed after a fire in 1904 but a renovation a hundred years later bought them back to their 19th century glory, including the iron roosting eagles, cast from the same English foundry as the originals.
432 F Street at northwest corner of 5th Avenue
George J. Keating owned one of the 19th century’s largest farm equipment companies when he lived in Kansas. He moved to San Diego in 1886 but died two years later. His wife Fannie poured $135,000 into this building as a tribute to her husband, who had started the project. She tapped the versatile talents of brothers James William and Merritt James Reid, Canadian architects who would be responsible for many post-1906 earthquake buildings in San Francisco. They delivered one of the toniest office buildings in San Diego, crafted of stone and brick in the Romanesque Revival style with prominent curved ends. Prestigious tenants from the professions, the San Diego Savings Bank and the city library all called the Keating home for awhile.
809 5th Avenue at northeast corner of F Street
Wisconsin-born George White Marston arrived in San Diego when he was turning 20 in 1870. For the better art of the next 75 years there was scarcely a civic project that did not carry his fingerprints. Regarded as “San Diego’s First Citizen,” Marston helped launch the city library, was one of the founders of the YMCA and served on its board for 62 years, worked as park Commissioner and was influential in the development of Balboa Park, served on City Council, was a trustee of the forerunner of San Diego State University and was a founder and first president of the San Diego History Center in 1928. His own business was dry goods which he started in a one-room store and built into the town’s leading department store. He moved his operation into this Italianate-flavored building in 1881.
Oxford HotelWilliam Penn Hotel
511 F Street at southeast corner of 5th Avenue
The Young Block stood on this corner until 1912 when it was razed and Levis Brinton, a Quaker from outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania put up the substantial six-story Oxford Hotel, intended to be the final word in luxury for travelers to San Diego. A double room with your own bath could be had for $1.50. Today the building enters its second century as a residential hotel.
770 Fifth Avenue at southwest corner of F Street
They don’t get much older than this structure in the Gaslamp Quarter; Charles de Leval built it in 1874 and sold it to merchants Spencer and Ogden in 1881. They added the second floor in 1885 and a tenant making fireworks just about blew it off two years later.
726 5th Avenue
William Llewelyn, “importer of and dealer in all kinds of fine boots and shoes,” built this Italianate commercial structure for his family business in 1887. After the wholesome shoe store left in 1906 less savory enterprises were headquartered here. In 1917 decency charges were brought against the resident Madam of the building’s whorehouse - charges were dropped on a pledge to behave.
702 5th Avenue at northwest corner of G Street
Albert Cole erected this commercial block in 1891. Look up above the first floor awnings to see fanciful brickwork and a playful cornice. Cole would commit suicide shortly after the building was completed. San Diego businessman Theophile Verlaque operated here for awhile; the Frenchman arrived in 1870 and ran sheep and built the region’s first winery. Expanding his operations, Verlaque traveled to the Ramona Valley and founded the town of Ramona.
Old City Hall
664 5th Avenue at southwest corner of G Street
This building of Florentine-Italianate design began life with two stories as a bank in 1874. Two more stories were added in 1887 when the city library moved in and in 1891 the city government settled in for a 35-year stay. Back in private hands, the building weathered an unsympathetic modernization in the 1950s and was fully restored in 1995.
643-647 5th Avenue
Theatrical performances in San Diego trace back to a United States Army theater troupe from the Third Artillery that brought a series of popular plays to to the San Diego Mission in 1858. Thomas Whaley opened the first professional stage a decade later. The Casino launched in 1913 and its appearance as a Ghiradelli Chocolate store dates to an Art Deco makeover in the 1930s.
633 5th Avenue
Captain Alfred H. Wilcox commanded the transport schooner Invincible, charged with supplying Fort Yuma in what is today southwestern Arizona during a three-year uprising of unfriendly natives between 1850 and 1853. Wilcox was unsuccessful on navigating his ship up the Colorado River but he experienced better times in business in San Diego. He married a Mexican woman and ran a sprawling ranch west of town. He constructed this lively commercial building, one of San Diego’s first brick structures, in 1888. A staple of the town’s bawdy red light district, the Yuma was the first brothel to be shut down in the “Great Raid” morality sweep on November 11, 1912. The police netted some 138 women (and the mayor and three councilmen who got the dates confused) who were arrested and given the choice of signing on to the Door of Hope charity and renouncing their wicked ways or getting on the train for Los Angeles. The out-bound train for had 136 women clutching one-way tickets, one woman was declared insane and the only one who accepted the town’s generous offer later became San Diego’s first telephone operator.
614-656 Fifth Avenue at northwest corner of Market Street
John Pierre Backesto was a Pennsylvania doctor who came west to settle in Santa Clara and invest in 19th century San Diego real estate. He constructed this block-swallowing, Italianate commercial building in 1873 and later added a second story with guest rooms. The finest merchants in town offered their wares here, including wholesale grocers Klauber & Levi and San Diego Hardware in its early days. Backesto went on to develop a second commercial block which did not meet with similar success. Klauber & Levi followed Backesto to the new location but an estimated 70 tons of goods fell though the floor and two years later in 1889 the entire building was consumed in “the most destructive fire ever known in San Diego.”
The McGurck Block
611 5th Avenue at northeast corner of Market Street
Edward McGurck raised this three-story Italianate commercial building in 1887. Its most enduring tenant was the Ferris and Ferris Drug Store that moved in during 1903 and stayed until the San Diego Padres went to their first World Series in 1984. For many years this was the town’s only all-night drug store and for part of that time the overnight druggist was Gregory Pearl Peck whose son would become one of Hollywood’s greatest stars.
437 Market Street at southwest corner of 5th Avenue
Jacob Timken brought his family of seven children from Germany to America in 1838 and settled outside of St. Louis where a large contingent of his countrymen had put down roots. His son Henry apprenticed to a master wagon and carriage maker and was crafting carriages on his own by the time he was 24 in 1855. Timken patented numerous improvements in the buggy trade and was able to retire to San Diego in the 1880s. He dabbled in real estate and constructed this commercial building in 1894; the first tenant was the Mint Saloon. Henry Timken was restless in retirement, however, and traveled widely before his imagination was captured by the new horseless carriages that were appearing on American streets. In 1898 he patented the tapered roller bearing, a discovery that would earn him induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. He formed the Timken Roller Bearing Axle Company in Canton in 1901 and was soon providing 90% of the axles used in the nation’s exploding motor vehicle industry. With the company established and in the control of his sons, Henry Timken again retired to San Diego, this time for good.
536 5th Avenue
This eye-catching structure was completed in 1913 with a wine business on the ground floor and a hotel up above. The Lincoln boasted a stone lion adorning its parapet but an 1986 earthquake shook it to the ground and a passerby below, clearly not a preservationist, scooped it up and carried it away. Fortunately the Lincoln’s white glazed ceramic tile stuck to the facade. This block was once dominated by Japanese-owned businesses and during World War II the building was used as a staging point for Japanese residents being sent to internment camps.
460 Island Avenue at northwest corner of 5th Avenue
The Callan was a World War II-era tenant. The building opened in 1886 and Till Barnes leased space here for his Acme Saloon. Barnes ket his pet bear on the premises and it is said to have bitten the nose off an imprudent patron one night. The Acme served drinks here until 1907.
TURN RIGHT ON ISLAND AVENUE.
William Heath Davis House
410 Island Avenue at northeast corner of 4th Avenue
This is the oldest surviving structure in San Diego’s “New Town” and if it looks like it belongs on a rocky bluff in a New England fishing town it is because that is where it came from. William Heath Davis was a ship owner who came from a long line of Boston ship-masters. Until gold was discovered in California it was only Massachusetts ships that sailed around Cape Horn and controlled trade with Hawaii and the West Coast. Davis staked his business future on San Francisco in the early 1840s but he visited San Diego many times and married into a prominent Old Town family when he was 25 in 1847. Three years later Davis helped pioneer “New Town” andhad a pre-framed lumber “salt box” house shipped from New England. It was originally located at the corner of Market and State streets and Davis did not keep his family in the house long. In the decades to come, while its neighbors were torn down or dismantled for firewood the Davis House trundled on and eventually was moved here, refurbished and given new life as a museum.
Horton Grand Hotel
311 Island at southwest corner of 4th Avenue
This ornate structure, awash in festive bay windows, is actually the result of two hotels being stitched together in a 1986 renovation that marked their 100th birthdays. Facing the building, to your left is the Horton Grand and next to it is the Brooklyn Hotel where the Kahle Saddlery operated on the ground floor beginning in 1912. The Grand Horton was the more upscale of the two, designed to replicate the experience of a Viennese inn. The Brooklyn attracted more of a cowboy crowd and lawman Wyatt Earp lived here for most of the seven years he spent in San Diego.
TURN LEFT ON 4TH AVENUE. TURN RIGHT ON J STREET. TURN RIGHT ON 3RD AVENUE.
400 3rd Avenue at northwest corner of J Street
This one-story chapel with a sloping red tile roof was designed in a Spanish Mission style in 1927 by Louis Gill, nephew of Irving Gill. It served the spiritual needs of Chinese immigrants and offered instruction in English as well. The Chinese Mission closed in 1960 and the building, originally on First Avenue, was hauled to this location where it is now a museum
433 3rd Avenue
The Quins were considered Chinatown’s First Family and Ah Quin was known informally as “mayor of Chinatown.” Ah Quin came to America at the age of 15 in 1863 and worked as a laborer from California to Alaska. When he came to San Diego in 1880 Quin was able to speak English and was hired as a railroad labor contractor. He stayed the rest of his life, running a small business andbecoming a respected voice in the community. There were 12 brothers and sisters in the next Quin generation and the family purchased this building in 1930 to help contain a produce business. It was pulled here from 16th Street by four horses in 1890.
TURN RIGHT ON ISLAND AVENUE. TURN LEFT ON 4TH AVENUE.
527 4th Avenue
The south half of this building was the Hop Lee Chong Laundry, in continuous use from the building’s construction in 1923 until 1964. The north half was the home of several Oriental businesses such as the “American Company,” “Sunset Company,” and “Tuck and Tong Herb Company.” It also served as living quarters for local Oriental tenants, including various operators of the laundry.
536 4th Avenue
After more than 100 years in the Gaslamp Quarter, this building from 1903 is the only one that still sports its original upstairs balcony. The Cotheret was the first of a string of names under which these rented rooms operated. The sliver of alleyway to your right led back to a well-kept little building, painted a faded yellow behind a picket fence, that was known as Canary Cottage, the most famous of the brothels in San Diego’s “Restricted District” known as the Stingaree. The madam, Ida Bailey, began the town’s classiest bordello in the 1880s, serving only the finest food and adult beverages. In early evening she would often load her prettiest girls in a carriage and drive around town for an “airing.” Two rubber trees growing close to the Canary Cottage made possible a quick exit from upstairs should an unplanned departure be necessary.
Midland Hotel/Pacifica Hotel
551 4th Avenue
This building has been the home to several hotels beginning with the Midland in 1914. Later it was known as the New York, Seery, and finally Pacifica. In the 1930s it catered to San Diego’s military personnel. From 1917 to 1928, part of the building was used as storage by several Chinese companies, and from 1925 to 1928, it housed the Pacific Dance Hall.
345 Market Street at southwest corner of 4th Avenue
The Frey brothers were Frenchmen but their shop here was not filled with fancy European goods - it was a second hand store. For many years the 1911 structure was the place to go for a Chinese meal but its true fame came in the 1950s when the Crossroads Jazz Club began showcasing the talents of local musicians, giving birth to the San Diego jazz scene.
417 Market Street at southeast corner of 4th Avenue
This building was constructed in 1906 and the Goodwill Bar moved into the first floor. In 1945 S.H. “Mac” McIntosh and Mario Dini bought the establishment from Dini’s brothers and two years later moved the saloon to 7th and Broadway. Rather than chop up the polished wooden bar and reassemble it, they put it on dollies and rolled it out onto Market Street. The newly renamed McDini’s went on to become famous for its thin-sliced corned beef sandwiches heaped on rye bread. An even longer tenant was the Hotel Lester that greeted its first guests on the second floor in 1915 and stayed until 1984.
410 Market Street at northeast corner of 4th Avenue
This is the site of John Pierre Backesto’s second San Diego real estate venture where Abraham Klauber and Simon Levi moved in 1887 and suffered two quick calamities. The weight of their goods caused the foundation to collapse in their first year here and a fire destroyed the building the following year. When it was rebuilt in 1889 it was called the Broker’s Building. Klauber & Levi soldiered on nonetheless and stayed until 1903. A third floor was seamlessly added in 1909.
Golden West Hotel at northwest corner of G Street
720 4th Avenue
This is another of John D. Spreckels’ projects, completed in 1913.
TURN LEFT ON G STREET.
101 G Street at southeast corner of 1st Avenue
Ralphs is the oldest supermarket chain west of the Mississippi River. George Albert Ralphs was a bricklayer when a hunting accident shattered his left arm at the age of 22 and forced him to find work in a small grocery store. With his brother Walter, Ralph Bros. Grocers opened their first grocery store in a 112-foot by 65-foot building in downtown Los Angeles in 1872.
TURN RIGHT ON 1ST AVENUE. TURN LEFT ON F STREET.
Panama Hotel/Senator Building
105 West F Street at southwest corner of 1st Avenue
This building that looks like it snuck out of the Gaslight Quarter is a 1913 creation of architect David H. Holmes. It began life as the Panama Hotel but through the years you could check in here to the Hotel Juleff when Allie Juleff, manager of the Metropolitan Hotel on West Broadway, took over the operation, and the Senator Hotel. Its prominent modillion-block cornice gives the building a vague castle-like appearance.
The Jacob Weinberger United States Courthouse
325 West F Street at southwest corner of Front Street
Few towns were looking forward to the opening of the Panama Canal more than San Diego where visions of an international trade bonanza danced in the heads of civic leaders. A suitably impressive U.S. Post Office and Customs House was needed and this four-story government building fit the bill when completed in 1913. James Knox Taylor, Supervising Architect of the U.S. Treasury Department, blended Classical Revival and Spanish Colonial Revival styles to honor the town’s heritage and announce its American ambitions. The portico, with its grand Ionic order colonnade, stands as San Diego’s only surviving Classical Revival facade. Over the years the facility has been renovated to serve as courtrooms and office space.
Metropolitan Correctional Center
808 Union Street at northwest corner of West F Street
This is what a downtown prison looks like, 1970s style. The 23-story federal prison can house 1,300 inmates, both male and female. Patty Hearst was interred here for a time.
TURN RIGHT ON FRONT STREET AND WALK UP TO BROADWAY. TURN RIGHT, HEADING EAST.
This four-tower hotel traces its roots back to a stage coach company, the Limited Imperial Valley Stage Line. By the 1920s it was evident that the demand for horse-drawn travel was not coming back and the company, now known as Pickwick Stage Lines, expanded into the hotel business; it would shortly join the pack of transportation companies that would form the Greyhound Corporation. The Pickwick Hotel opened in 1927 and was a hit immediately so two more towers were added the next year to bring the number of rooms to 230. That same year the corporation purchased a radio station and set up broadcasting facilities in the hotel. In 1933 KGB, The Voice of Sunny San Diego,” hired a young announcer who was still a student at San Diego State University, Arthur Gordon Linkletter. Art Linkletter would get his own show, become program director and eventually station manager within a few years before heading off to be one of the most beloved television hosts in history. The hotel stumbled after the 1950s but has recently been renovated while retaining the City’s only Neo-Gothic exterior.
When money man John D. Spreckels set out to build “the first modern commercial playhouse west of the Mississippi” in 1912 he had celebrated architect Harrison Albright include a number of symbolic touches for the six-story, classically inspired theater building. It would open in 1912, timed to correspond with the unveiling of the Panama Canal. The theater had exactly 1,915 seats because that was the date the Panama-California Exposition was scheduled to be staged in San Diego. The stage at the center of the Baroque-designed interior is 82 feet x 58 feet, and was one of the largest stages ever constructed. Jack Dodge, who managed the theater for its first 17 years, negotiated a unique lease - if there was no net profit during the year then nothing was due on the rent. Spreckels never seemed to mind as long as the shows were top shelf.
CONTINUE ON BROADWAY TO THE TOUR STARTING POINT IN HORTON PLAZA.